Marek was born in Lvov, Poland on October 15, 1927. Marek’s father, Mr. Herman, was a hat-maker, who worked long hours in order to make enough money to feed the family. In 1929, Marek’s little brother, Moshe-Michael, was born. Everyone called him Mundzio. Marek’s sister, Bella, was born in 1931, and Esther was born in 1933. Marek and his family lived under difficult, impoverished conditions.
Even though Marek’s parents couldn’t afford to buy him toys, he had a happy childhood. He and his friends would play soccer and other games in the large lots across the street from his apartment building. In the winter, he would enjoy sled riding.
TESTIMONY: “OUR HOME”
“Making a living was very difficult.”
At the age of seven, when Marek began public school, he didn’t have the necessary textbooks, and didn’t even have food to take to school for lunch. After Marek fainted from hunger once at school, his classmates, who were all Jewish, took pity on him and secretly put a sandwich in his desk every morning.
While Marek’s friends were kind to him at school, his Polish teachers were not. They seemed to enjoy humiliating their Jewish students and expressing their antisemitism .
In September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Marek’s hometown of Lvov was bombed. The planes flew so low over the town that Marek could sometimes see the pilots’ faces. The Germans won the battle for Poland, but after several weeks they announced that Lvov was now under Soviet control. In fact, unknown to the public, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact , which divided the area of Poland between these two occupying forces.
The Jews of Lvov greeted the Soviets happily. They knew, from the news they had heard of Hitler and the Nazis that they didn’t want to be under German control. In fact, life seemed to improve for the Hermans under the Soviets. Both of Marek’s parents found fulltime employment in a factory, with the help of Marek’s Aunt Hela. She and her husband, Marek’s Uncle Moshe, were very involved with the local Communists. With their help, Marek’s family also moved to a larger apartment in a nicer area of town.
After about a year under the Soviets, Marek reached the age of 13. Although he was initially opposed to celebrating his bar mitzvah in any kind of religious manner, he finally decided to learn how to put on tefillin (two small leather boxes containing passages from the Torah which are placed on the head and arm with leather straps and are worn during prayer), and had a small ceremony with his family, who insisted on celebrating this important event.